"They planted so many trees, and we will build on their work."
Last Tuesday, I wrote about Jun Factoran and Rolly Metin, founding leaders of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Today, I praise a politician Sonny Alvarez, an activist Obet Verzola, and a forester Pat Dugan. They were different, suis generis, each a category of their own, but they had in common vision, brilliance, and passion. They left a better world.
Sonny succumbed to COVID-19 on April 20. Obet died of sepsis and pneumonia on May 6. Pat fought cancer and passed to eternal life on March 29.
Heherson Alvarez and I worked together for 25 years, starting when he asked me to draft the Manila Declaration for the first meeting in 1995 in Berlin, Germany of the Conference of Parties (COP) of the Climate Change Convention. And in that first of over 20 COPs we attended together, Alvarez was given a prominent speaking slot and asked me to help write his speech. I also wrote for that conference the official speech for the Philippines, delivered by DENR Secretary Angel Alcala; both speeches were delivered during the opening plenary.
Five years later, when he was environmental secretary, Alvarez again enlisted me to write the Philippine statement in the 2000 Johannesburg World Summit of Sustainable Development.
In 2009, as Presidential Adviser for Climate Change, he asked me to organize the Philippine Delegation for the Copenhagen climate conference in December. In that meeting, which was a failure, I was by his side giving advice and drafting interventions.
From his leading role in the anti-Marcos resistance to his environmental work, Senator Alvarez was wise, courageous, and very effective. With his wife Cecile Guidote Alvarez, he was a pioneer in the global advocacy to combat climate work, They used their power to advance that work when this advocacy was lonely. Sonny succeeded because Cecile had his back. And Cecile’s success, from founding the Philippine Educational Theater Association to her leadership of EarthSavers, was enabled by Sonny’s full support.
I also worked with Roberto Verzola for decades. Obet introduced email to me and my generation of social activists and development workers. Later, I worked with him on biosafety and up to the end we collaborated on renewable energy issues.
Above all, Obet was an example of integrity and consistency – who walked as he talked. His account of being tortured during martial law and his disappointment with the national democratic revolution, written in 2012, is painfully honest but ends with a conviction that hope has the last word:
“These events caused my acquired structure of beliefs to unravel and forced me to search deep within my soul for a new set of core values. When I finally emerged from years of soul-searching, I would stay on as a social reformer, subsequently become an ecological activist, and eventually focus on positive advocacies. I would acquire a deep distrust for advocates of systematic violence, centralized power and monothitic mindsets and would embrace nonviolence, decentralism and diversity as core values.
Today, I work with colleagues in promoting ecological and income-enhancing methods among farmers and helping them adapt old and new technologies to their changing needs, a farmer at a time, a family at a time, a neighborhood at a time. With the ecological crisis compounding our economic problems, the country and the world needs change badly, more than ever.”
Finally, I have known Pat Dugan for years – first from a distance as he was already a giant in the field when I was just starting. But later, more closely, as we worked together in the board of Environmental Science for Social Change, an organization founded by Fr. Peter Walpole SJ.
ESSC summarizes Pat’s work and influence: “Nothing seems to faze Pat. Generous with his ideas shaped by a vast wealth of knowledge and experience, constantly buoyed up by a boundless optimism and energy for what can be done that is both pragmatic and creative, Having come from the logging industry as well, and acknowledging the bad as well as the good from that sector, Pat’s consistent focus on working with communities and the promotion of assisted natural regeneration (ANR) is received with greater credibility.”
ESSC recounts what motivated Pat, son of an American father and Kankanna-ey mother: “Establishing forests is kind a sentimental for me. I am just stunned by the appreciation of what’s there, God’s creation. Look, we’re a hilly country, and what grows best here? Trees!”
But Pat was a different kind of forester. He cared for people as much as he cared for trees. As one of his grandchildren posted: “His work wasn't just about planting trees but making sure that they grew, and also that the community that was caring for that patch of forest was also benefiting from caring for it. So it wasn't just about love and compassion for the environment, but for people as well.
87 years of generosity, of respect for others. He loved the trees, he loved his family so dearly. He was a very good man.
I end by thanking all these good men: Jun, Rolly, Sonny, Obet, and Pat: Go with God and go in peace. You have planted so many trees. We will build on your work.
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